“I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
And I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight? Oh Lord, oh Lord”
Winning her first three starts, some took notice. After six starts, six wins, it soon became, “Could she win another?” She was putting together a most impressive run. And, she was doing so, very convincingly. On this night, she was aiming for her fifteenth win, in fifteen starts.
Her dominant performance was not surprising. Everything that had been worked on over the years, in practice and the show ring, was falling into place. The riding. The vision. The clarity of mind. The confidence.
During her three weeks in Saratoga, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life,” was her mantra. “Can you feel it coming in the air tonight?” She certainly did.
The daylong wait built an anticipation, particularly among the other riders and their crews. They had not seen a rider dominate, at this level, with three different horses. The professionals similarly noted they rarely seen a rider on the Rolex or Longines professional tours ride this strong. All agreed the public was missing something magical. If the shows were open, the atmosphere would have been absolutely electric.
waiting game: Elizabeth with Candace (Happy Girl) on a walk (Saratoga, Jul 04 2020)
Drawing the 19th start position, it would be at least another hour and a half before she would ride.
A mix of tight and sweeping turns, a measure of patience was required on the highly technical course. It was a 13 obstacle/16 effort course with a time limit of 78.50 sec. With two DQs among the first five riders, the other three had down rails. One also had a time limit penalty.
Riding sixth was Deborah. While starting on a slower pace, Deborah and Comet were ahead of the planned time at the first split. Deborah decided to scrap her riding plan and attack the course. While they brushed three or four rails attacking the course, none went down. The first clear round, their time was a blazing fast 64.77 sec. It would add pressure on the other riders, one in particular.
the alone time between Deborah and Comet (Saratoga, Jul 04 2020)
Of the next three riders, one DQ, two with multiple rails down. A double, double-oxer, in a sweeping right hand turn, was being missed, leading to the three DQs. Simply, they were beginner mistakes.
Tara, riding tenth with Cameron, was next. Like Deborah and Comet, they were ahead of the planned time at the first split. Tara, however, stayed with her riding plan. It was clean, no brushed rails. The second clear round of the night, guaranteeing a jump off. They finished at 72.68 sec. Though eight seconds slower than Deborah, the time was of no consequence. It was about making the jump off.
Nicole, Mel, Bill and Sarah were the professionals among the next group. And, some of the best you will find on the tour. The same could be said about the three ranked amateurs from the Tristate area, and the junior from Florida. They all rode well, but each had a dropped rail, or two, along the way. Deborah and Tara had put pressure on the remaining riders, but the short time limit had required a measure of decisive riding.
The moment had arrived. Would she be able to win her fifteenth start?
A tap to her helmet, she was ready. The song in her phones was cranked to high when she handed them off.
Entering the show ring, Elizabeth slowly cantered Lilith around the perimeter of the course. Switching directions twice, she switched Lilith’s direction again to line up the first fence. Crossing the start timer, they were on their way. Fence one, two and three were easily cleared. The double-oxer combination on a sweeping left at four, clear. The triple combination on the straight, clear. Into the sweeping right, with the double, double-oxer, it seemed Elizabeth was going to miss the fence completely. The official was poised to raise her flag to indicate a miss. Elizabeth broke Lilith right again, they cleared the fence. It set up the line for the remainder of the course. She let Lilith carry the rhythm.
Lilith proudly wearing her blue ribbon ear bonnet (Saratoga, Jun 27 2020)
Across the finish timer, they made it look so effortless. Their time, 65.07 sec.
The jump off was another rare moment. Just the three of them. Training together, they know how each other rides. Whoever would ride first will put on the pressure with a fast, aggressive line. Starting first in the 6 obstacle/9 effort jump off was Deborah. From the start, it was a very aggressive line taking Comet close to the post over each obstacle. Nothing was wide. More importantly, they finished clear. The high-risk, aggressive line paid off – their time, 34.02 sec. Tara was next. They rode the same line. Cameron was a little wide coming into the last turn. They rode clear, finishing at 34.11 sec.
Elizabeth did another slow canter with Lilith, keeping a medium rein on her mare. To win, they would need a perfect ride. The line needed to be perfect. They would need to be ahead of Deborah’s split time. A fraction off, Deborah would be the winner. At the split time, Elizabeth and Lilith were fractionally behind. Running out of course, they needed to make up the time. If anyone could pull it off, it would be Elizabeth. Her line was the same as Deborah’s. Last obstacle, Elizabeth lined Lilith right at the post. Either they would clear, she would be knocked off, or DQ. She felt the post press against her right boot as they went over. They were clear. Elizabeth’s time did not flash on the scoreboard. The officials were likely rechecking times. It had to be close. Then, it flashed. Elizabeth finished at 34.019 sec. Deborah’s time was 34.021 sec.
For the fifteenth time, over three weeks, it was a family affair on the winner’s podium. The celebration culminated with a champagne spray. (Griffin had the champagne ready.)
Elizabeth was the best with fifteen wins in fifteen starts. Deborah and Tara each earned seven reds (2nd place) and seven whites (3rd place). They tied for second in one event, the USHJA National Hunter Derby, in the second week. They finished the three weeks in Saratoga with eight reds and seven whites each.
Tara and Brie pushing for second in the 1.40m Open Jumper (Saratoga, Jun 20 2020)
After the ceremonies, it was settling in the horses for the overnight.
Back at the rental house, well after 1:30 am, a roast beef sandwich and chips for dinner. A Solo cup of champagne. A hot shower. Then, to bed after three.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life.”
The song, set to high, in Elizabeth’s phones, “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. Of course. A video of the song may be found here. If you watch the music video, the intensity you see in Phil’s eyes at the start of the song was close to the intensity of Elizabeth’s eyes at the start of her ride.